The Complexity and Challenge of Gospel Ministry Be Strong in God’s Work

I. For joyful usefulness, one must choose hardship (1-7).

A. “Therefore” – Paul reminds Timothy of the emphasis up to this point.

  1. Because of the inviolability of the Word 1:12 – God’s truth has transcendent importance. The Christian minister does not ask what is advantageous to him or what seems most comfortable or most palatable to hearers, but what is true.As a servant of Christ, he serves the truth in the same way that Christ served the will of his Father.  God’s will for redemption dominated all that Jesus said and did in spite of the immediate pressures of his environment. Even so, the Christian minister sees that God has given and is determined to guard his truth.  That divine purpose informs the minister’s, and every Christian’s, entire view of life.
  2. The volatility of professors 1:15 – Many who professed faith already have departed. The restraint of divine authority that called for rejection of the world, the taking of the cross to follow Christ, became onerous to some.Paul, therefore, tells Timothy to be careful for his own pilgrimage in what he expects and to whom he commits this deposit of truth. The grace of God is true, effectual, and results in perseverance, but at the same time it engages the human will in a transforming way so that godly admonition becomes the means of its perseverance.

B. “Be Strong in Grace” – The consciousness of God’s eternal purpose displayed in 1:9, 10 should prepare Timothy for both the grandeur and the relentless responsibility involved in propagating such a message. The grace of salvation energizes the human affections both for faith and perseverance. In addition, the grace given him at the time of his setting aside for ministry (1 Tim 1:18; 4:14) calls him to a life of singleminded devotion to the cause of the gospel and the glory of Christ. The command assumes that it will be performed through the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 1:14).He is to be strong both in his teaching ministry and his manner of life.

  1. Teach the deposit to faithful men who are willing to teach it to others; no personal agendum – As opposed to those teachers that teach what they ought not, whose treatment of the Law if purely fictitious, and whose doctrines are mere speculation, Timothy is to deal with “the things that you have heard from me [Paul].” Again this clearly asserts apostolic authority and the expectation that the apostolic message is the church’s body of truth ad infinitum.From generation to generation, the things that Paul had told Timothy were to operate as the message that determined both content and structure. [cf. 1 Tim 3:14-16]
  2. Choose suffering, not ease –Each of the cases listed in Paul’s admonition have to do with tasks that require one to function by well-established authority, not personal whim. The way of true success and usefulness comes with submission to demonstrated and legitimate authority.  So the case with each example.
  • The soldier – he is under the authority of a commanding officer.  A battle will be won through strategy followed closely by each constituent part of an army, not by each person doing that which seems easiest or most pertinent to him at the time.  Choosing the difficulty of obedience and discipline results in the greatest good.
  • The athlete is under the authority of the rules of training. Eating sweets and sleeping may seem more pleasurable at the immediate moment, but will produce only sorrow and despair, even heightened personal embarrassment, when the time for athletic performance comes.  Long hours at the free throw line after practice avoids many an air-ball or brick during the game. Also he or she must adhere to the regulations that govern the right to participate in the contest.
  • The farmer must follow the unalterable flow of seasons and laws of harvest. If one does not use the ordained means for harvesting a crop, he will be without food on the table. Throughout the correspondence with Timothy, the importance of his ministry of teaching is emphasized. Without the hard work of sowing the word of God no spiritual harvest will be forthcoming. “I planted,” Paul wrote, “Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).
  • Examples should be instructive if contemplated seriously – personal autonomy produces disaster.  The Lord has built into the very structure of nature and the interactions of human society principles that also operate in our relation to God. This promise should motivate every instructor of biblical truth; if we meditate on Paul’s instructions, God will grant us understanding.



II. Paul gives reasons to choose suffering instead of ease (8-13).

A. For the Sake of Christ – In choosing to suffer hardship, Timothy should first of all call to mind the nature of the message with which he is entrusted. The halls of eternity resound with these truths. Angels observe them with amazement.Noting can transcend their importance. His message concerns Christ.

  1. Look at his work as implied in the resurrection – Jesus’ mission is accomplished. He has come to destroy him that has the power of death, he has come to become a curse for us, he has come to pay the wages of sin, he has come to procure forgiveness, justification, and resurrection to incorruption for a people subject to corruption. All this he has done.  “Risen from the dead.”
  2. Consider his person as a descendant of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16; Psalm 89 3, 4; Psalm 132:11, 17, 18; Isaiah 9:6, 7).From a reading of these Scriptures, it is clear that these promises to David of a Son, could only be fulfilled by one who has eternal honor. His reign must be eternal and he must be worthy of worship.  That the Christ is the one who descended from David implies both his deity and his humanity.
  3. Consider the Gospel that Paul preaches: “According to my gospel.” This has the same content as “my deposit” in verse 12.Obviously, Paul did not originate it but received it. Because it came by divine revelation, and he preached it as a steward, he called it his gospel.  Look at the language in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 for this same possessiveness of that which is revealed.  “The gospel which I preached to you;” “If you hold fast the word which I preached to you;” “I delivered to you as of first importance, what I also received.”  Also, in Galatians among the many strong assertions of this pure stewardship Paul affirmed, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel [according to man]. For I did ot receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11, 12).
  4. Consider his suffering for the sake of that very Gospel. Had he been willing to relent on the hope of the gospel he could have been spared the humiliation and inconvenience of prison. Paul’s imprisonment pictures the epitome of Peter’s admonition “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, his is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” [1 Peter 4:15, 16] His imprisonment, however, did not mean that truth had any less power or that God did not continue to advance his purpose through his truth. “But the word of God is not imprisoned” (9b). This is the same confidence with which earlier he had written the Philippians.  “I want you to know that the things that have happened to me have served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12).

B. For the sake of the elect, Paul endured all things (10).

  1. This is in imitation of Christ (John 17:6, 12, 14, 16-19). Jesus prayed for those that the Father had given him, for to those he gives eternal life.Those are the ones that he will lead to know the Father.  Those are the ones he keeps and that he asks the Father to keep by his word.  Those are the ones he asked the Father to sanctify by his truth; for those whom the Father gave him, he sanctified himself. He set himself apart to the redemptive act of death.  It is no off the cuffremark, but at the heart of the entire scheme of redemption that all these things are done for the elect.  Those who want to ignore or minimize the place of election in gospel preaching and ministry, obscure the very thing that drives the entire ministry of Christ and that drove the apostles to suffer and die for him. Cf. Romans 8:28-39.
  2. The decree to choose demands the implementation of the right means of salvation. “That they may obtain salvation.” Just as the elect could not be saved had Christ not died, so they can not believe in Christ without hearing the gospel.  Their being brought to eternal glory, that goal toward which God’s elective purpose has destined them, involves their hearing and believing the gospel.

C. Paul endured opposition and suffering as a manifestation of genuine faith (11-13). Divine action in the soul of the sinner produces true persevering faith.

  1. The certainty of salvation is established in the death of Christ. “If we died with him, we will also live with him.” The completed work of the cross indicated by the words of Jesus, “It is finished,” procured all other blessings of salvation; they flow assuredly from it. Paul based the certainty of all the blessings of Romans 8:28-31 on the positive effectuality of Christ’s substitutionary death: “He who spared not his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how shall he not also along with him freely give us all things” (Romans 8:32).  In this light we should see 2 Corinthians 5:15 “And He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”  Paul places this first in the confession to show what drives his confidence in the success of his preaching and why he is convinced that suffering in the will of God produces gospel advance.  On the one hand, all for whom Christ died shall certainly be saved; and on the other, none would be saved had Christ not died.
  2. Second, endurance in love for and service of the gospel indicates genuine faith and holds the promise of eternal life.“If we endure, we will reign with him.”Endurance is a product of true faith, and thus one of the powerful evidences of its presence in the heart.
  3. By the same token, if faith produces endurance, denial indicates the absence of faith. “If we deny Him, He also will deny us.” Calvin says, “When men basely deny Christ, the cause is not only weakness but infidelity.  It is because they are blinded by the allurements of the world that they see the life of God’s kingdom.”  Paul here simply takes at face value Jesus words in Matthew 10:33: “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
  4. God remains faithful to his purposes and his character.
  • He cannot deny himself, and therefore, those who have no union with Christ by faith, and thus deny God’s character as displayed in the gospel of Christ’s suffering and death, will find no mercy in the day of judgment.  Denial of cardinal elements of Christ’s work, or refusing to suffer for the advance of the gospel [without recovery] means we are faithless.  Our fall, however, does not detract from the glory of Christ, for it cannot be diminished, and no matter how many vainglorious men despise, reject, or fall away from Christ’s gospel, it is so much the worse for them but has no tendency to diminish the unshakeable steadfastness of the gospel and the glory of Christ contained in it.
  • His faithfulness also assures that he will never fail to be true to the redemptive, reconciling work of Christ. “If we confess our sin, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Matthew Henry observed, “He is faithful to his threatenings, faithful to his promises; neither one nor the other shall fall to the ground, no, not the least jot nor tittle of them.”


What strange alteration is this that makes a death undying life?

What king is this whose crushed subjects are most apt for reigning power?

How does the careful unsufferer subject his soul to eternal strife?

How does the faithless reveal fidelity down to life’s extremest hour?

The mist is cleared and the answer plain

When ones sees a Lion in the Lamb that was slain.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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